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Dangers of Dog Walking

Quinci Herll, Chiropractic Intern

You’re taking your dog for a stroll, it’s a lovely day, and suddenly your dog takes off and next thing you know, BAM, you’re on the ground in pain. According to researchers from John Hopkins University, “Between 2001 and 2020, an estimated 422,659 adults presented to US emergency departments with injuries related to leash-dependent dog walking. The annual incidence increased more than fourfold during this period”. Dog walking provides a variety of health and emotional benefits for both the owner and dog, so let’s discuss some tips and tricks to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

Fractured fingers

Finger fractures are the most common dog walking injury, similar injuries can also occur at the wrist and elbow. These injuries occur when dogs suddenly tug on their leash. Dogs getting distracted (ie. by squirrels!) and pulling on their leash is inevitable at times, but there are precautionary measures that can be taken to prevent finger fractures. Rather than wrapping the leash around your fingers or wrist, simply hold the leash in your palm. Dog owners should also get a leash with a cushioned handle to reduce pressure on the fingers.

If an injury like this occurs, apply ice as soon as possible while the injury is still acute to decrease inflammation. Ice constricts blood vessels to the area, with hopes of reducing recovery time. These injuries should also be x-rayed to get a definitive diagnosis in order to decide the most effective treatment plan moving forward. If radiographs show a fracture, injured area will likely be braced or put in a cast. Depending on severity of the injury, a chiropractor can adjust the joints above and below the injury to ensure proper alignment and healing. Healthcare professionals can also perform laser therapy on the affected area. Laser therapy increases circulation, reduces inflammation and pain, and enhances healing of tissues.

Head Injury

The second most common injury related to dog walking is a traumatic brain injury. Similar to finger fractures, these occur when a dog suddenly jerks on the leash. Head injuries or TBI injuries range from mild to severe, but even mild injuries to the brain need to be taken seriously. Head injuries while dog walking can be prevented by simply paying attention to your surroundings while walking. Put down the phone and enjoy being outdoors with your fur friend. Be aware of cars, other animals, uneven terrain, etc. Owners should also walk their dogs on foot, not on wheels such as a bike or electric scooter. Dogs are unpredictable and wheels make us less balanced. Stick with dog walking, not dog rolling. Dog owners should also walk their dogs in proper footwear with good traction. Shoes like sandals can easily slip off and increase chances of a fall.

Immediately following a head injury, you should get assessed by a medical professional. Depending on the severity of your injury, advanced imaging such as a CT scan or MRI may be ordered to get a detailed view of the brain. If the injury is minor, you will likely be able to go home immediately following assessment. At home care includes decreasing screen time and getting plenty of sleep. Patients with a mild head injury should limit physical and cognitive activities and gradually return to normal routines. If a traumatic brain injury is more severe, emergency care may be warranted. Many people with traumatic brain injuries also experience neck pain from the accident. Once red flag symptoms are ruled out, an adjustment to the cervical spine may help decrease headaches and any neck tension associated with the head injury. Cervical decompression may also be beneficial for a patient with a TBI. Cervical decompression opens the joint spaces in the neck and reverses the effects of gravity, increasing hydration and nutrients to injured discs. Massage therapy may also be beneficial for someone that experienced a neck injury. After an acute injury, muscles can spasm and tighten up, and massage therapists can use a number of different techniques to help calm down the muscles and increase range of motion.

Shoulder Sprain

The third most common dog walking injury is a shoulder sprain or strain from a sudden pull or jerk by a dog. Owners should keep their dogs on a short leash. The longer the leash, the more time the dog has to build up speed and momentum. The recommended leash is a non-retractable, traditional 6-foot leash. It is also important to properly train your dog. Dogs that are well trained are less likely to pull on their leash and cause an injury to the owner. Owners need to know their physical abilities and decide on a dog breed accordingly. Increasing upper body strength will also improve your ability to control dog during walks.

After a shoulder injury occurs, you should get evaluated immediately after by a healthcare professional. Depending on severity of the injury, evaluation may include imaging such as an x-ray or MRI, range of motion, and orthopedic tests. Mild to moderate shoulder strains should be treated conservatively before more invasive treatment options such as surgery. Healthcare providers can perform treatments like Graston to the shoulder to promote healing. Graston is a scraping tool that helps decrease adhesions and scar tissue, decreasing overall treatment time. Acupuncture may also be a beneficial treatment for shoulder injuries Acupuncture improves the flow of energy throughout the body, decreasing pain and inflammation. Healthcare professionals might also provide at home exercises and stretches to strengthen and improve range of motion of the shoulder. While the shoulder injury is still acute, avoid repetitive movements that flare up discomfort.

Although there is a potential risk for injury while walking your dog, there are so many great benefits for both the dog and owner! It reduces stress, improves cardiovascular health, and builds stronger bones and muscles. Dog walking injuries are not 100% preventable, but making simple, small changes can greatly decrease the odds of an injury happening. Pay attention to your surroundings, get a short, non-retractable leash, and properly train your dog at a young age. Dog walking is an activity of daily living for many people, so follow these tricks and tips to make it a fun and safe experience!

Quinci Herll is a chiropractic student from Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minnesota, completing her internship at Washington Park Chiropractic. She is passionate about athletes, pediatrics and perinatal care. She enjoys educating patients on the power of chiropractic and helping others achieve their health and fitness goals.


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